Camas teachers, district grapple with McCleary

If no agreement by Aug. 27, union will call for strike vote

The Camas Education Association (CEA) hopes a recent letter from the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction to legislators will add weight to their argument that the salary increase available to educators during this year’s collective bargaining negotiations has no cap.

Shelley Houle, CEA president, said State Superintendent Chris Reykdal’s letter pointed out the inconsistent language in the “McCleary fix” and calls for more understandable direction.

“In short, we provided guidance to school districts following each of your actions to ensure consistent communication and clear expectations of districts as they carry out your budget and policy priorities,” Reykdal wrote to state legislators. “What is clear to me is that you do not all agree on what you passed or what was meant by one aspect of a policy or another.”

Houle said that the McCleary fix, meant to remedy a court decision saying the state must adequately fund public K-12 education, could have been written better to save local unions and districts from disagreements over legal interpretations.

The Camas teachers’ union and district have met three times to negotiate salaries. Both sides explained their understanding of the new McCleary law at those meetings, Houle said, adding that there is still a wide gap between the two sides’ salary compensation offers.

That’s because Camas School District leaders have interpreted the law as having a 3.1-percent cap on salary increases, Houle said.

The teachers’ union disagree.

“We believe that Chris Reykdal has dismissed the 3.1-percent cap understanding,” Houle said on behalf of the union.

The groups will meet again Thursday, Aug. 2, and Houle said Reykdal’s letter will be a big topic at that meeting.

“To me, (negotiating) should be really easy,” Houle said. “We shouldn’t be trying to figure out how much of the earmarked money for educator salaries is going to educators, but how to distribute that money. But so far, we’re just talking about how much — and that’s across all the bargaining units in Southwest Washington. We’re hearing the same things from our neighbors in Washougal, Battle Ground, Evergreen and Ridgefield. There’s just a disagreement on how much money.”

The teachers’ union is inviting its members and neighboring associations to rally before the Aug. 9 bargaining negotiation, at 4:30 p.m., at the district office, 841 N.E. 22nd Ave., Camas.

“It’s kind of a ‘rah rah’ to help usher in the negotiation team,” Houle said. “We’re hoping (it will be) festive. We’d like to keep things positive, but also show the district that our members are standing together in this.”

The union president said it’s important for the union to uphold its good relationship with the district.

“I want to make it really important that we have a very positive relationship with our district. There’s just been a tradition of that,” she said. “We highly respect Jeff Snell, our superintendent. We truly believe that he is student-centered and wants what’s best for our schools, for our educators and for our community. We just think there’s differences in the understanding of the law.”

During the July 23 board meeting, Houle posed a question to the board during public comment: “Why would the state increase educator compensation by 26 percent, classified compensation by 52.9 percent and certificated administrative staff compensation by 55.3 percent if salaries were to be capped at 3.1 percent?”

Houle said she believes the district stands with the union in not wanting any educator to be harmed, or take a pay cut, with the new schedule.

The union would also like to see new educators start at a compensation higher than $45,600 in order to recruit and retain a high caliber of teachers, Houle said.

If no agreement by Aug. 27, union will call for strike vote

In June, the CEA held a general membership meeting and members passed a motion stating that, if they have no tentative agreement by Aug. 27, the union will call for a strike vote.

Each local association sets the guidelines for a strike and the CEA decided they would still work their service and training days even if they voted to strike.

“We want to get our classrooms ready. We want to be prepared for students,” Houle said. “But if there’s a strike, then school will not start on Sept. 4.”

The purpose of the strike would be to show the union is together in the belief that they deserve professional compensation for the job that they do, Houle said. “Camas is a destination district. Families move in to this district specifically to go to our schools, and the reason why Camas has such a high regard for schools is because of the teachers, the educators,” Houle said. “We’re a people business. We’re not making widgets. We are grooming the minds of children as they go grade to grade, and so if you’re going to take the credit for such amazing schools you have to give that credit to your teachers. One way you can show that is through higher compensation.”

The teachers want to be at school on Sept. 4, ready to go and serve the students, Houle added.

“I have personally a lot of hope and optimism that we will get this figured out and have a salary schedule for our staff on Aug. 27,” Houle said. “I think that is a shared interest — that school will start on time.”